12 Must Watch Student Films Made By Famous Directors

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on April 20, 2015

Before they became reputed names in Hollywood, many directors were students learning the craft of filmmaking. And in this period, several of them directed student films which gives us an early peek into their filmmaking skills.

Here is a list of 15 noteworthy student films made by some of the most well-known filmmakers of Hollywood.

1) What’s A Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This – Martin Scorsese

Scorsese learnt filmmaking in New York University under the tutelage of Professor Haig P Manoogian – to whom Scorsese dedicated Raging Bull. During his tenure as a student at the New York University, Scorsese directed his first student feature - What’s A Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This.

The film narrates the story of a writer’s obsession with a photo on his wall. The film features direct voiceovers and a remarkably fluid camera movement which later on became the trademarks of Scorsese’s works.

During his stint at the New York Film University, Scorsese also directed The Big Shave – a film that symbolically dealt with the Vietnam war & It’s Not Just You Murray – a short that looks at the life of a gangster.


2) Amblin – Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg started his filmmaking career by working as an unpaid intern at Universal Studios. During this stint Spielberg directed his first film titled Amblin. The film which was a silent short, narrated the story of a hippie couple wandering from Southern California to the Pacific Ocean.

Amblin was adjudged as the Best Short Film at Atlanta Film Festival and World Fest Houston. It also led to Spielberg signing a seven year contract with Universal studios, making him the youngest ever filmmaker to sign such a contract. Spielberg eventually went to name his production firm as Amblin Entertainment. And the rest, as they say is history.


3) Freihit – George Lucas

Before he was known as a filmmaker whose most famous films were set in ‘A Galaxy Far, Far Away’, George Lucas studied filmmaking at University of Southern California’s Film School. During this period, he directed a few short films including Freihit (German for ‘Freedom’) - a student film about an anonymous man trying to escape from an unknown territory located across an ambiguous border.

Much like his earlier features like Electronic Labyrinth : THX 1138 and Look At Life , Freihit too has an abstract plot, marked by interesting visuals and execution.


4) Xenogenesis – James Cameron

Before becoming a filmmaker, Cameron was a truck driver who delivered lunch to schools. After watching Star Wars, Cameron made models like the ones he saw in the movie. Further with the help of bright lights and dolly shots, he directed a sci-fi short named Xenogenesis. The short narrated the story of a woman and a man sent in a gigantic starship to search for a new life cycle on space, wherein they get into a combat with a robot.

While Xenogenesis is technically not a student film, Cameron taught himself to make movies by buying cheap filmmaking equipment and making films to hone his skills. The short gives us an idea about Cameron’s knack for using special effects imaginatively, which became the hallmark of his later films, namely Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Avatar.


5) Doodlebug- Christopher Nolan

Before he became an acclaimed  filmmaker, Christopher Nolan was trying to break into the big, bad world of cinema. And Doodlebug was one of the earliest films he made while he was a literature student at University College Of London. The short which is shot in black and white narrates the story of a guy trying to catch a bug that is causing him endless agony.

The black and white tone of the film gives it a unique visual identity and reminds you of Nolan's breakthrough features such as Following and Memento. Despite a short duration, the film is quite atmospheric with a strange culmination which has become a signature styles of Nolan's films.


 6) Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times)  – David Lynch

David Lynch is well known for his surrealist style of cinema with films such as Blue Velvet and Eraserhead being ample proof of the same.

That there was always a surreal tinge to his works is evident from his very first short, Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times). Lynch made this film while studying filmmaking at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This animated film depicts visuals of six grotesque human figures vomiting with the sound of a siren playing in the background.  Lynch’s films have never offered easy explanations and this film is no exception.


7) Boy and Bicycle – Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott made this film while he was a student at the Royal College of Arts in London and its post-production was funded by the British Film Institute. The short narrates the story of a boy wandering around in town on his bicycle and featured Scott's younger brother – the late director Tony Scott.


8) Stalk of the Celery Monster – Tim Burton

Tim Burton enrolled at The California Institute of Arts to study filmmaking and his batchmates were John Lassetter, Andrew Stanton and Gendy Tartakovsky . During this period, Burton directed Stalk Of The Celery Monster, an animated short about an evil dentist and his assistant. He also made other short films including Doctor Doom and The Island Of Doctor Agor. Impressed by these films, Disney executives offered Burton an apprenticeship at Disney studios. And there's been no looking back since for Burton.


9) Resurrection Of Bronco Billy – John Carpenter

With films like The Thing, Halloween & Christine amongst others, John Carpenter has gained a reputation as one of the modern day masters of Horror cinema.

While studying filmmaking at University of South California, Carpenter directed The Resurrection of Broncho Billy with fellow student John Longenecker. The film which narrates the story of wannabe cowboy won the 1970 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.


10) Darren Aronofsky – No Time

While he studied filmmaking at American Filmmaking Institute, Darren Aronofsky directed this interesting short film that narrates the story of three friends and is quite unlike his later films. During this period, he directed two other short films Fortune Cookie and Protozoa.

Fortune Cookie was an adaptation of a Hubert Selby, Jr book. Incidentally, Requiem Of A Dream was also adapted from a Selby, Jr book. Protozoa featured actress Lucy Liu and marked Aronofsky's first collaboration with cinematographer Matthew Libatique.


11) Roman Polanski – The Fat And The Lean

While studying filmmaking at National Film School in Lodz, Poland, Polanski directed several short features including The Fat And The  Lean. The film features Polanski as a lowly slave trying to entertain his master. This was Polanski's last short feature before he directed his first feature film The Knife In The Water.


12) Robert Zemeckis – A Field Of Honor

Zemeckis directed this comic short about the Vietnam while studying filmmaking at University Of South California.  A Field Of Honor won the Special Jury Award at the Second Annual Student Film Awards held by AMPAS, yes the same organization that hosts the Oscars. This film caught the attention of Steven Spielberg, who became the executive producer for Zemeckis’ first two feature films, I Wanna Hold Your Hand  and Used Cars and also produced the Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


Are there any other films which you think should have made it to the list? If yes, then do let us know about them. We would love to write about it.


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